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Posts published by “centaur”

(Back to Dragon Con)^3!

centaur 0

So! I'm back at Dragon Con once again. So good to be back in Atlanta after almost a year! (Well, actually, I was down here a month or so ago, but that was swinging through just for the day zip zap zop to see a little movie answering to no-one, but that's not a real visit in my mind).

The fans are already starting to gather, and so are the curious onlookers, pouncing with questions if you wear a Dragon Con shirt! (Ask me how I know).

This year, I'll mostly be at the Writer's Track, except for my reading on Friday:

Welcome to Writers' Track 2023 - Thu 08:30 pm - Embassy EF Hyatt
Join us for an introduction to the best Writers' Track ever! Let us give you a hint of what's coming up for Dragon Con 2023 - and get you started on your way to becoming a professional author, if you aren't already.
Panelists: Yasmin Bakhtiari, Anthony Francis, Vanessa Guinta, Nancy Knight(M), John Robinson

Reading Session: Anthony Francis - Fri 02:30 pm - Learning Center Hyatt
This will be me reading from my books and essays.
Panelists: Uh, the me.

Social Media: Your Friend, Enemy or Frenemy? - Sat 02:30 pm - Embassy EF Hyatt
Description: Social media can boost your career or torpedo it. What's a writer's best approach to all the social media, both old and new? How do you develop a strategy that makes sense for your career?
Panelists: Gail Z. Martin, Venessa Guinta(M), Anthony Francis, Bob McGough, J F Brink, Noel Plaugher

AI and What It Means for Writers - Sun 11:30 am - Embassy EF Hyatt
Hearing a lot about the 'takeover' of AI? Let's dispel some of the myths, while we confirm some of the truths.
Panelists: Anthony Francis(M), Rich Gatz, Andrew Greenberg, Amie Stepanovich, D.J. Bodden, Phillip Pournelle
Note your beanie: possibly the most apropos panel I've ever been on.

Career Advice: WHAT? - Sun 01:00 pm - Embassy EF Hyatt
People give advice freely. How to raise your children, save money - they even want to tell you how to develop and maintain your writing career. Who should you listen to? Listen up for some great advice from people who've been there and done that.
Panelists: Greg Keyes, Bill Fawcett(M), Anthony Francis, Esther Friesner, Jeanne C Stein, Drew Hayes

How to Be a Professional Writer in One Easy Lesson - Mon 01:00 pm - Embassy EF Hyatt
What's the difference between a professional writer and a hack? Let's draw some boundaries…
Panelists: Trisha J. Wooldridge(M), Anthony Francis, Mel Todd, Ryan DeBruyn, Richard Lee Byers, Jeffrey L Kohanek

Hope to see you all there!

-the Centaur

Pictured: A view from the Hilton Garden Inn, a pretty good hotel to stay in at Dragon Con if you don't mind a walk and if you missed signing up for a closer hotel, Francis.

[ninety] minus one-three-seven: the spectacle of moviemaking

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One of the striking things about this depressing, all-streaming, post-Covid apocalypse that many of us (including myself) seem to think we're sliding into is the resurgence of Movies, Real Movies. In another sense, neither the depression nor the resurgence were all that surprising. Many movements and media have gone away: disco died, 8 tracks went out, and the goth-industrial club scene of the 90's is mostly dead.

But vinyl, which many people thought would go the way of the 8 track given that CDs are more durable and accurate, is having a resurgence because records are larger, more beautiful, sound more pleasant, and are useful in DJ'ing. In the early 2000's, with the rise of ebooks, a friend told me that he would be so worried if he was a physical publisher or a bookstore owner - but, speaking as a publisher, physical books are now being produced at a higher quality than they have been since the book of fucking Kells, and speaking as a bookstore lover, there is a fricking renaissance of bookstores, which in the 2010s felt like a dying breed.

So maybe it isn't surprising that, with the rise of streaming, 85-inch screens for the home, and the whole zombie apocalypse, that there would be some pessimism about the future of movie theaters. But, speaking as somebody who really loves streaming, I've always preferred media that I can physically own, and I've always preferred seeing movies on the big screen to the small.

Now, some things seem just made for streaming. Marvel movies, for example. Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, for another. And Doctor Who. Yet my greatest memories of Doctor Who were seeing "The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang" at Comic-Con, and "Day of the Doctor" in the theater. My greatest memories of Star Trek were watching the re-release of Wrath of Khan for something like its 35th or 40th anniversary. And I must have seen Avengers: Endgame in the theaters like six or seven times (admittedly, one extra time because I got food poisoning in the middle of a showing and had to go back to see it again, and another extra time when they did a special showing to push it past Avatar).

But for the real revival of filmmaking, I credit Christopher Nolan and Tom Cruise. They consistently make movies which are, well, real movies. Movies that look best on the big screen. Movies that show us things we haven't seen before. Movies that push the personal and technology envelope to create experiences that no-one has ever created before.

I really enjoyed Tenet - it's my favorite Christopher Nolan movie - but Oppenheimer takes the spectacle of moviemaking to the next level with an unending, almost seamless wall of sound and imagery, broken only when Nolan chooses to go dark or quiet for effect. Top Gun: Maverick may be a popcorn movie, but, at the same time, I think it is very literally one of the best movies ever made, and if you understand the behind the scenes stories, the effort that Cruise put into making it shows in every frame. And the Mission Impossible series, similarly, continues to excel at showing us stunts which are, well, impossible.

Even beyond Nolan and Cruise, other moviemakers are doing the same. Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness or Ant Man and the Wasp: Quantumania may ... not be the best movies ever made, but they are some of the most visually imaginative. No Time To Die may suffer a bit from the just-so storytelling that afflicts many modern movies and TV shows, but it's truly a spectacular Bond outing. And the quality of acting, directing, and even writing in recent years means we get truly spectacular achievements like Knives Out, which uses little to no obvious special effects to achieve a truly spectacular result just by clever writing, deft directing, and amazing performances orchestrated to a crescendo.

So, hey, go catch a movie in the theater. It's better than it's been since the late seventies / early eighties.

-the Centaur

[eighty-nine] minus one-three-six: oppenheimer is good, go see it

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long day driving down to atlanta to see oppenheimer with a friend, followed by work on the novel and on social navigation paper followups. very tired, crashing. oppenheimer is good, go see it.

-the centaur

pictured: lazy dog atlanta, and their signature smoked maple bacon old fashioned. it's good, go drink it.

[eighty-eight] minus one-three-five: wiped after a four hour bike ride

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The Swamp Rabbit Trail rules! But it is very long, and I'm tired after two hours there, two hours back (even with a break in the middle for a bookstore / writing run, and a break for dinner on the return journey.).

So, no real blog post for you ... but I learned something very interesting on the way about how to push through things, such as, for example, a steep unexpected hill when you are a very out-of-shape cyclist.

Actually, the steep expected hills are even worse, but the same trick works on them too - very simply, counting to a hundred, and doing that again. More on that tomorrow.

-the Centaur

Pictured: the car, and the bike, after the ride; the break to write in the middle; and the dinner near the end.

no, seriously, i can help

centaur 0

Yeah, right, buddy. You just want my dinner, after not eating yours.

Lots of news, much of it good - particularly, a new way to structure projects with a literature review, book document and manuscript doc. But workmen arrive in the AM, so you just get a picture of a cat.

-the Centaur

Pictured: He is determined.

Test Post, Please Ignore

centaur 0
Nothing here to see. This is a test. This is another test. Again, nothing here to see. This paragraph is also a test. Test. Test. Test. And finally, this is one more paragraph. Test. Test. Test test test. -the Centaur P.S. This is to see whether the Classic Editor is still broken in WordPress. UPDATE: Yes, it still is! Leaving this here for now.

[eighty-seven] minus one-two-one: can i help? i think i can help

centaur 0

So, in case you don't own this cat, the little brow-furrowed face Loki is currently making is his "I really want your food but you're not letting me eat it, so I'm going to sit just at arms length and fume" face. He thinks if he waits long enough, he'll be able to sneak in and try some. My long arm thinks otherwise.

Anyhoo, while I said I wanted to put blogging at the first of the day to make sure it got done, it turns out that I was way more interested in making sure that I didn't fall grievously behind on my Camp Nano project, Dakota Frost #7, SPIRAL NEEDLE, nor miss any of my other responsibilities.

I'm mostly caught up now, so I'm trying to put blogging back on the queue. Interestingly enough, after my rant about blocks, the WordPress folks have reached out to talk to me about blocks. Talk about customer service! So I'm also blogging trying to replicate the bugs I observed the other day that set me off.

So far, I cannot replicate the cut-and-paste error, where trying to select all the text only copied part of it - it is entirely possible that the system had just gotten into a cruftly state, which can happen to any program of sufficient complexity.

I can, however, replicate the cut-and-paste problem I had, where trying to re-order sentences introduced new paragraph breaks in a way that's not standard for Word, Google Docs, or TextEdit. This is probably most directly attributable to the text being in blocks, but it might be fixable.

I also reproduced the "Where's Waldo" interface issue where I could not easily inject new blocks - though now I see that can be fixed with a carriage return followed by a slash, which is documented in the interface, it is also possible that at the time something was just wrong with my editor.

I also debugged the problem I had with the interface. In TextEdit, Word and Google Docs, the first line of your document is the first line of your document. In WordPress, it is invisibly a title, as opposed to the Classic Editor which distinguishes this with a different text entry box. This is also probably fixable.

But there are other strange errors. Like, the sidebar that let you change the properties of the post are normally present when I blog, but had disappeared when I started this post. Weirdly, not even the button to show them was present - I had to toggle several other buttons and then it appeared, just where I remembered it. Not sure what's going on there. Since I restarted my computer recently and re-logged into WordPress, perhaps this is a "sticky" setting that went away when I cycled my browser. Still investigating.

-the Centaur

Pictured: Loki, trying to help me study generative AI.

[eighty-nine] minus one-oh-six: i don’t know they’re literally incompetent …

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This is your daily reminder that the Gutenberg editor of WordPress is a dumpster fire. I don't know that the people who made it are literally incompetent as far as technical coding goes: the bones of the program seem to be a well-functioning machine that rarely breaks down.

But Gutenberg is incompetent as a text editor, and whoever designed it was literally incompetent in terms of the "blocks" based design that they chose to push on all of us, because the "blocks" editor literally does not work as a text editor: basic things like selecting text, cutting it, and pasting in into a new place don't work, because the "blocks" break up your text selections and prevent you from maneuvering in the document.

Microsoft Word doesn't have this problem. Google Docs doesn't have this problem. Overleaf doesn't have this problem. Dropbox Paper does, a little, and it shares the incorrect (and I will fight you on that) "Where's Waldo" style interface which hides the text editor controls when you're not hovering over them, making them undiscoverable - perhaps Dropbox was also infected by "user experience."

But most damningly, the Classic Wordpress editor didn't have this problem. They had something that wasn't broke, and they didn't fix it with the incompetent thing they replaced it with, but they were so committed to forcing everyone to use their new thing, they broke the old one. (This is your daily reminder that using Classic Editor in modern WordPress destroys the formatting of the posts).

And I want to point out: the person who did this, Matt Mullenweg, did this to us on purpose:

We Called it Gutenberg for a Reason

It moves the WordPress ecosystem forward, but it also moves the whole web forward. Which is scary! Because change always is, and this is a big one. But a scary thing is usually a thing that leads to growth, if you can push through it. ... apathy would worry me a lot more than disagreement or controversy. Creating great software will never make every person happy. 

So, in case you have trouble parsing this ... Matt and his team wanted to push a technical change which benefited their "ecosystem" - likely, just some internals of their system that they wanted to clean up, which would make it easier to implement features no-one wanted - and they started with a mindset that interpreted their failures as user unhappiness and software problems as complaints, which people needed to just power through so they could get to their new world order.

Matt, you took something that worked and broke it, and replaced it with something which will literally never work. Text editing is not block editing, and it's never going to be. It's a serial string of tokens that encodes a proxy of speech, and if you try to impose blocks on it, your editor will fail, as yours failed me today.

I was working on a post. One not much more complicated than this one. But simply cutting and pasting text was something that the Gutenberg editor failed miserably at, and I was not able to successful edit my text. Even copying it out to Word took several tries, because not only did Gutenberg make it hard to select all the blocks, it did not even copy the text out of all the blocks, so I had to do it piecemeal.

I don't actually want to give up on Gutenberg becoming better. But I strongly feel the only way to successfully fix the interface it is to thow away the key metaphor behind it - the block. That's fine as a backbone behind the text which WordPress uses for rendering - but a text editor should manipulate text.

-the Centaur

Pictured: some nice flowers which the previous owners planted near a corner.

[eighty-eight] minus one-oh-six: in my quest for the perfect tomato sandwich, i have inadvertently recreated the BLT

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OK, full disclosure: this is more like "the perfect sandwich using tomatoes, if you know you're going to be eating out for a few days and want to empty out your refrigerator so don't buy anything too fancy" than the actual perfect tomato sandwich. I go through phases where I eat in most of the time and where I eat out most of the time, and near the end I try to make sure that I use up everything that I have.

Tomato sandwiches are perfect for this: I almost always have bread or or buns or croissants at the house, but will often be left with a few extra tomatoes and some lettuce if I have previously made tabbouleh. But, by themselves, tomato sandwiches can be a little boring. So I started looking up recipes, and found one which involved sautéing a bunch of herbs as a garnish - but which I can simulate pretty effectively with a bit of veganaise, dill, salt, pepper, and onion powder.

Leftover tomato can be turned into a mini-salad (upper right, above) with a little salt and pepper and any remaining veggies or lettuce you have. Personally, I like toasting the thick "Nature's Own Perfectly Crafted Multigrain" bread better than the hamburger buns you see above, as you can spread the lettuce and tomatoes out to create a wider sandwich that's easy to eat. It also seems to go better with a nice peaty Scotch like Ardbeg than it does with a margarita, but on all of that, your mileage may vary.

Regardless, I was again cleaning out the freezer of frozen stuff, mostly breakfast items, and found some vegan bacon, which I thought, "hey, that will add savory, I am a genius"! Only when I was done with it did I realize I had simply re-invented the good old bacon-lettuce-tomato sandwich that my finicky tastebuds had steered me away from as a youth. Well, they're not steering me away from it now.

Oh, the recipe. Makes two sandwiches:

  • 4 slices Nature's Own Perfectly Crafted Thick-Sliced Multigrain, or bread of your choice
  • 1 beefsteak tomato, or tomato of your choice
  • 4 leaves of Bibb or Butter lettuce, or lettuce of your choice
  • Veganaise, or spread of your choice
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Dill Weed
  • Onion Powder
  • Optionally, 4 slices of vegan bacon, or, just bacon

Wash and clean the lettuce leaves. Slice the tomato to create four thick slices from the middle. Chop up the ends, salt and pepper them, and add to a small bowl as a mini salad with any other veggies you have, such as leftover lettuce. Toast the bottom slices of bread and spread on the veganaise, then season the veganaise with salt, pepper, dill weed and onion powder. Layer on the tomatoes, two slices per bread, and salt and pepper them as well. Then add the lettuce. (Note: if using wide bread, line the tomato slices up, then add the lettuce, but if using hamburger buns, you can stack tomato-lettuce-tomato-lettuce). Optionally add tomatoes and close off the sandwich. Serve with your beverage of choice.

-the Centaur

Pictured: a lot of tomato sandwiches.

[eighty-seven] minus one-oh-six: be kind to yourself, but prioritize

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Last week, frankly speaking, I was feeling kind of low. I had launched a major paper to arXiv (an event which I tweeted et al, but somehow haven't blogged yet) and had a big opportunity to get caught up on stuff. But I couldn't seem to get rolling, not even on my Camp Nano project, Dakota Frost #7, SPIRAL NEEDLE.

I met with my buddy Jim Davies and came up with the idea of restructuring my day, which worked well and I blogged about last week. But when Monday rolled around, and a lot of stuff wasn't done, I decided that I needed to throw away that script and make sure that the important "hanging tasks" got done.

And I did. Maybe not a third of the ones I wanted to get done, but I chewed through a lot of them. And I realized that, after spending a year and a quarter on that big arXiv paper and the Embodied AI Workshop, that I probably needed more recharge time than I had given myself.

But I had felt I didn't have time, as I had to roll into Camp Nano on July 1st and there were other tasks, like managing the repair of our air conditioning system and disbursing awards to the winners of Embodied AI Workshop challenges, that also couldn't wait. Things often just start when they are scheduled to start.

But whether I had that time to take off, I needed that time, as you can maybe see above. The first week of Camp Nano, I was running below full power. After a week's worth of the motor sputtering on 50%, giving me a forced recharge, you can see my writing rate start to climb up again, as it should be.

But the lesson isn't just that it's important to be kind to yourself - the modern phrase is "self-care" - because, as I said, things often start when they wanna start. And this includes planned things, like Camp Nano, and unplanned things, like lightning taking out your A/C. And even emergencies, like a sick cat.

So, I had put blogging aside a bit until Camp Nano was rolling again and my business were taken care of, and was getting ahead on both this morning, just prior to going to lunch with my 90-year-old uncle, when our cat Loki started yowling, puking, and trying to go to the bathroom without success.

The little guy has a history of urinary tract infections, which can kill a cat in hours and almost killed him three times, and had gotten the zoomies after trying to use the litterbox last night. His condition didn't seem bad then, but it was markedly worse today, and reluctantly I called Uncle Paul to cancel, then called the vet.

It often seems that I'm called to do the most just when I've "run out of spoons" dealing with some other problem, but, somehow, God provides enough spoons in the clinch when I need them. Less than an hour after canceling with Uncle Paul, I was pulling into the vet's office, who worked us in to their lunch hour.

Blessedly, the surgery Loki had after his previous urinary tract blockages prevented any buildup this time; in fact, the doctor suspected this was possibly a simpler case of a gastrointestinal infection - kitty food poisoning - and gave him antibiotics / anti-inflammatories to help Loki's system calm down.

Within hours of getting home, he was eating and drinking again, and soon returning to his alternately lovable/needy, grumpy/jerky self. And I got yet another lesson that the resources you need to solve your problems are often there, even if you don't always feel like they are.

Be good to yourself. But put first things first when you have to, and often, it will all work out.

-the Centaur

Pictured: Loki, after recovery (but looking like he looked when he was sick), Camp Nano progress, Loki at the vet, and Loki definitely in recovery mode with his medicine in him. And may I complain again about the Gutenberg editor making simple operations like selecting text an exercise in frustration?